Sunday, February 18, 2024

Completed Set: 1990-91 Pro Set Hockey (Series I and Series II)

Pro Set. 
If you were a youngster who collected hockey cards in the early 1990s, seeing that brand name has likely brought back a tangled web of emotions. 
There was excitement back then, that's for sure. As a young hockey card collector, I clearly remember the brand's tagline: The Hottest Cards on Ice!

But were they? Yeesh. I don't know. That was kind of a bold claim for a company that was creating hockey cards for the first time—especially with Score, OPC Premier, Bowman, and Upper Deck all jumping into the mix that very same hockey season of 1990-91. And although Pro Set's inaugural release did generate some buzz at first, here's what I remember:
As collectors began opening packs from all those new hockey card brands, the buzz for Pro Set fell off. And with good reason.
First of all, it was riddled with errors (player name misspellings, wrong uniform numbers on the card fronts, incorrect stats on the card backs, wrong player photos altogether), and the photography sometimes left a lot to be desired. On top of that, the set didn't have foil wrappers and holograms like Upper Deck. It didn't have the exclusive rights to Eric Lindros like Score. It didn't have the history and strength of Topps and O-Pee-Chee. So who were they to claim they were the hottest cards on ice? Nobody, that's who.

But looking back, I'll say this: 
I appreciate Pro Set.

To use a baseball analogy, they were like the rookie who steps into the batter's box for his first Major League at-bat and swings as hard as he can on the very first pitch he sees, regardless of where it's located in the zone and what type of pitch it is. And I think there's something fun about that type of reckless abandon.

So for the rest of this blog post, I'm going to try to describe just how hard Pro Set swung at their first try with hockey cards. Whether you consider these points positives or negatives is up to you.
The set is huge 
Pro Set was released in two parts. Series I consisted of cards 1-405, while Series II went from card 406 to 705. That was an absurd number of hockey cards at the time. We'll get to how Pro Set filled all that space a little later. For now, here's the total number of cards in each of the major hockey releases of 1990-91:
I don't know which company finalized their numbers first, or if all the companies were privy to each other's information, but you'd have to think the folks at Pro Set were rubbing their palms together with a good feeling that they were going to churn out the most hockey cards that year.
The colors are huge
With all the new hockey sets that burst onto the scene in 1990-91, Pro Set had to do something to stand out. And they sure did. With color. Just have a look at these six action cards, for example. 


Those bold horizontal stripes, matched to each team's colors, really stand out. It's a good thing that the cards were numbered sequentially by team. Otherwise, there would have been way too many stripes of way too many colors on any given 9-pocket page.
The subsets are huge
So how did Pro Set increase their bulk? Subsets! In fact, there are more than 130 subset cards in all. Here are some examples.
There were all-stars, award winners, and team logos that sported a 3D metallic look—so cool in the early '90s.


There were career point leaders, Hall of Famers, and head coaches.

There were even 22 cards that featured referees!
For those of you who didn't watch hockey back then, I'll say that refs were pretty big stars in their own right. Kerry Fraser, Dan Marouelli, Pat Dapuzzo, Bill McCreary, Don Koharski, Paul Stewart, Andy van Hellemond. I remember names like that clearly. I don't think referees today get the same name placement and notoriety.

The amount of cards with errors and variations is huge
In fact, there's an error on the very first card of the set (pictured on the left). The name "Bourque" is misspelled "Borque" on the front.
As for those other two, the photo on the middle card is not Peter Stastny. It's his teammate, Patrik Sundstrom. (Sundstrom's card features the image of Stastny.) The card on the right is not an error, but a variation. Look closely at Paul Gillis's face. He's got a bloody nose there. Pro Set spotted it early in production and airbrushed the blood out for the rest of the print run.
The number of rookie cards is huge
According to Trading Card Database, there are 213 rookie cards in the 705-card set. A whopping 147 of those rookie cards can be found in Series II. That means about half of Series II consists of rookie cards! Can't blame Pro Set there, as the rookie craze was well underway. And their approach paid dividends. There were some great rookies all around.

Series I has Alexander Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, And Mike Modano.  
Series II has Sergei Fedorov, Mike Richter, and Jaromir Jagr, along with Ed Belfour, Curtis Joseph, Owen Nolan, Mats Sundin, and Peter Bondra, to name a few more. 

Now here's a card back

Pro Set did pretty well with the space here. The color bars and overall design continue from the card fronts. There's a player photo, some well-organized stats, and at least one paragraph of descriptive text. Unfortunately, a bunch of card backs contain statistical errors and other typos. And I think the team name at the top right could have been a little bigger or bolder. But overall, it's not bad.

Back to the card fronts, now.

Some of the stars of the era got good-looking cardboard.

Goalies got some nice treatment, as well. 
Overall, however, there were more misses than hits. Many cards feature players standing around during warmups or play stoppages. And there are quite a few blurry photos throughout the set, too—more than the other 1990-91 sets.


Getting back to some interesting aspects, on the left we've got a coupon card that was issued in every pack (10 cents off!). In the middle there's a peculiar "puck" card, which is the final card of the set. And on the right, the ultra-rare Stanley Cup hologram card that was randomly inserted into packs. As far as I know, the print run was limited to 5,000. That doesn't seem
at all scarce these days, but when you consider how many packs of Pro Set were churned out that year (millions?), the odds of pulling one of these holograms change dramatically. I sure don't own one. That photo is from the internet.
Interestingly, there are no checklists in this set. Just think that with some team checklists and general set checklists, the company could have bumped the totals up to 730!
In any case, that's 1990-91 Pro Set. With all its faults and foibles, it's still a landmark set of the era. I'm happy to have the whole, big, whopping thing completed. (I might even try to add a couple of the variations next, like the Stastny/Sundstrom cards featuring the correct player photos.)

If you opened packs of Pro Set back in the day, share some memories in the comment section. And if this is your first time seeing the cards in such detail, what do you think?


  1. 1989 Pro Set football is the set that got me back into collecting--I bought a few packs at a friends' store--so I'll always appreciate the company. The 1990 football set, together with competitors' offerings, was overwhelming, so at that point I decided to stick with vintage. I like your analogy of Pro Set being like a rookie baseball player swinging away.

    1. Thanks for sharing those memories, VFCG! The trading card options sure did start to get overwhelming in the early '90s. Vintage is never a bad choice ;-)

  2. My Pro Set year of choice for hockey is 91-92, well-documented on my blog. But I have no idea what attracted me to it -- I think maybe because the checklist was so large. I wasn't a kid though, I was in my mid-20s.
    Never saw 90-91 Pro Set, haven't given it much thought. It's colorful in a junk waxy kind of way.

    1. Interesting that you gravitated toward the 91-92 set! The Sabres had some good players back then, that's for sure.

  3. This might be the most complimentary post about a Pro-Set set ever. Before now I haven't given much thought to this set but I bought a bunch of this stuff back then and I'm still not sure if I ever completed the set. Some day I'll dig it out.

    1. Heheh, thank you, Crocodile! It's a fun set to try and complete, and won't come anywhere close to breaking the bank.

  4. Great post! Love the effort and thought you put into this awesome hockey set.

    In regards to card designs, 1990-91 is my favorite year for hockey sets. I absolutely love Pro Set's inaugural design. Upper Deck, OPC Premier, and Score's were fantastic too. All of these sets were helped by the solid rookie crop, but Upper Deck and Pro Set had the best subsets.

    1. Much appreciated, Fuji! Good point about the 1990-91 sets, too. It really was a fun time to be a young collector.

  5. I do remember opening packs of this set back when it came out as a 13 year old Canadian collector in Kingston, Ontario. It sparked a lot of interest for a very very short period of time when it was released, then was completely forgotten about. Upper Deck, OPC Premier and Score (the latter just because of the Lindros) were the hockey sets that stole everyone's interest that year and the others - OPC, Topps, Bowman and Pro Set - just couldn't compete.

    I did like the colorful borders on the Pro Set cards that year, they are kind of similar to the Score and Topps baseball sets that also came out in 1990 in that regard. Otherwise though the best I can say is that they are way better than the Bowman set that came out that year, which was really awful.

    1. Oh, 1990-91 Bowman. Yes. I have to agree with you there. (Not to say that I didn't open a whole bunch of Bowman packs that year anyway, heheh.)

  6. I have soooo many cards for trade from this set. Let me know if anyone has a wantlist. TCDB says I have 618. And that's after having recently given a huge stack away.

    1. Good to know, Derek! I might be reaching out to you myself, as I've been thinking about picking up a few of the variations.

  7. Replies
    1. Thanks very much, Jon! This was a fun one to check off the list.